In Thursday night's Fox News debate, GOP presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich unloaded a whopper when confronted—again—about his controversial consulting gig with government housing corporation Freddie Mac in the late 1990s and 2000s.
At the debate, Gingrich dismissed his work for Freddie Mac. "I was a private citizen engaged in a business like any other business," he said. Details on his work with Freddie, however, suggest otherwise. Freddie, which was taken over by the federal government in 2008, paid Gingrich between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for consulting work. And although Gingrich has said he was paid to be a "historian" for Freddie, officials with the housing giant told Bloomberg News that Gingrich was hired, in part, to "to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company's public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it." So although Gingrich may not have technically lobbied for Freddie, he was hired to open doors in Congress for the company—and he received quite the paycheck for doing so.
Not only did Gingrich consult for Freddie, he also stood fast by its quasi-governmental status, which is anathema to many conservatives in Washington and beyond. Ex-Freddie employees told Bloomberg they didn't remember Gingrich ever voicing opposition to the company's business model or strategy. In September 2008, as both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae teetered on the brink of collapse (they were eventually taken over by the federal government), Gingrich said he had no plans to question Freddie's business model. "I was perfectly happy to not push the issue as long as they weren't failing," he explained at the time. That's a claim that could come back to haunt Newt. Here's video of it:
"Absolutely," Romney said. He asserted that the drone incident was just one of many examples of the president handling foreign policy matters with timidity, and that Obama's lack of "strength" was "inviting war." With regards to the White House "asking" the Iranian regime to return the downed aircraft, Romney blasted the Obama administration for doing "nothing" and endorsing a "foreign policy based on [saying] 'pretty please.'"
Newt Gingrich has a reputation, earned or not, as a man of ideas. And at Thursday's GOP presidential debate in Iowa, he suggested a big one: Borrow a page from Thomas Jefferson and abolish federal courts whose judges have handed down decisions he disagrees with. (He's previously called for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to be purged.) If nothing else, he'd call liberal judges before Congress to testify.
As Gingrich put it, "The courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think frankly arrogant in their misreading of the American people," the former House speaker said. "I would, just like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR, I would be prepared to take on the Judiciary if it did not restrict itself in what it was doing."
Although Jefferson's clashes with the courts aren't as well known, Jackson and FDR's power-grabs have been largely condemned by historians. Gingrich, however, dismissed concerns that dismissing entire courts would unconstitutionally tip the scales on the balance of power: "I would suggest to you, actually, as a historian I may understand this better than lawyers." (Never mind that Gingrich, who specializes in counterfactual historical novels, is not a historian.)
Desperate to strike a nerve with anti-Washington Iowa voters at Thursday night's debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry floated an idea he talks about every now and then on the campaign trail: Make Congress part-time. Perry proposed slashing for pay for elected officials and their staffs, and cutting the amount of time they spend in Washington in half. As a model, he proposed that of the Texas legislature, which meets for just 140 days total, every two years.
It's a novel idea. It's also a recipe for disaster. For one thing, as TPM's Benjy Sarlin reported in November, Texas' part-time legislature hasn't done much to make government run smoother. It just puts more power in the hands of Rick Perry:
"It’s just really hard for the legislature get things done withen your government is run by a hundred boards and commissions appointed by a governor who has next to no voice in the legislature,” Bob Stein, a professor of political science at Rice University, told TPM.
"They give the governor a lot of power. Even with Republicans with large majorities, the chairman of finance couldn’t move anything without the governor’s blessing."
Given the GOP's crusade against President Obama's "czars," advocating that the executive branch have more discretion to fill key slots is an odd position for Perry to take (in Texas, he's also come under fire for stacking those aforementioned boards with top donors). It also offers a solution to a problem that doesn't exist—namely that members of Congress (and their staffs) are overpaid and lazy. Generally speaking, they work insanely long hours doing very difficult work, handling a set of responsibilities that have significantly expanded even as the size of Congress has hardly budged. In other words, the problem isn't the pay; it's the personnel.
Questioned by Fox News' Bret Baier on his conservative credentials at Thursday's GOP debate in Iowa, Newt Gingrich made a curious claim: As Speaker of the House, he said, he'd balanced the federal budget four times. It's a claim he's made before—in a video on his campaign website, and on the stump. But as Politifact notes, it's false: Although Congress did pass balanced budgets for four straight years beginning in the late 1990s, the latter two came after Gingrich had resigned from the House and he'd played no part in crafting them.
The federal budget runs on a fiscal year calendar that begins October 1 and ends September 30. During fiscal years 1996 and 1997—the first two that Gingrich helped shape as speaker—there were deficits, of $107 billion in 1996 and about $22 billion in 1997.
By fiscal year 1998, the federal budget did reach a surplus of $69 billion. And in fiscal year 1999—which Gingrich can claim some responsibility for, even though he was out as speaker for most of the fiscal year—it was in surplus as well, to the tune of $126 billion.
But that’s only two balanced budgets he can claim credit for. The federal government did run four consecutive surpluses, but for the last two of those—fiscal years 2000 and 2001—Gingrich was no longer serving in the House.
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, in simpler times.
As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.
Gingrich took his great leap forward in Washington politics as a youngcongressman by launching a string of ethics charges against House Speaker Jim Wright, which ultimately brought the Texas Democrat down. But that didn't make Gingrich any sort of ethics crusader—far from it. When asked by MoJo in 1989 whether he'd support legislation to crack down on the amount of money elected officials can earn on the speaking circuit, Gingrich didn't just reject the idea, he scoffed at the very notion that money can buy influence:
[D]on't look to Newt Gingrich as a shining example of even his own proposed reforms. Not only did he receive $265,697 in PAC money for his 1988 re-election campaign, he's one of Congress's highest spenders on junk mail. Naturally, he also pocketed close to the limit, $26,800 of $26,850, allowed per year in honoraria. "The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument," explains Gingrich.
And he doesn't just throw that term around lightly.
Gingrich has taken the same line of attack in his run for president. Asked by USA Today in November to respond to criticism over his seven-figure paycheck from Freddie Mac, he dismissed his critics as "people with a socialist bias that you shouldn't earn money." Take that, George Will.